01/27/2014 11:55 am ET Updated Mar 29, 2014

Shoot First, Claim Self-Defense Later

Last week a retired 71-year-old Tampa policeman named Curtis Reeves shot and killed a younger man in a movie theater evidently because his victim would not stop texting during the Coming Attractions and in the argument which then ensued, hurled an "unknown object" at the cop which may have been a deadly weapon known as a bag of popcorn. The victim, Chad Oulson, was sitting in the row in front of Reeves and was not making any effort to climb over the seat but a well-aimed bag of popcorn can, as is well known, constitute a lethal threat. The media is already referring to this incident as an example of the Popcorn Defense.

According to the FBI, there were 260 justifiable homicides committed by civilians in 2011, of which guns were used 75 percent of the time. There were also 12,664 murders in 2011, of which roughly 8,800 were committed with guns. Of the 12,664 felony homicides, about half started as arguments and then things got out of control. Assuming that the ratio of murders to gun use stayed constant, between 3,000 and 4,000 gun murders occurred in 2011 that were no different from what happened in a Florida movie theater; a little yelling back and forth followed by a few f--- you's, and then out comes the gun.

In the Tampa case, the shooter first complained to the theater management but nothing was done. But the point is he knew there were other options which suddenly turned into non-options as the argument got out of hand. The question that needs to be asked is what would Reeves have done if he hadn't been armed with a gun? His victim was younger, bigger and stronger. Without a gun Reeves would have had no choice but to avoid a confrontation by moving away from the scene. At the time of the shooting, there were fewer than 30 patrons in the theater so it wouldn't have been difficult to find another seat. By the way, there's also no reason why Oulson couldn't have gotten up and moved somewhere else.

It turns out that Reeves disregarded a sign on the theater's front door that prohibited patrons from carrying guns. The next time that Wayne LaPierre or John Lott go on television to tell us how unsafe we are in gun-free zones, someone might tell them that the argument cuts both ways. The guy who walks around carrying a gun may think he's protecting himself and others against crime, but he also knows that if he gets into an argument he doesn't have to back down. Proponents of defensive gun use cite all kinds of public surveys in which people are asked whether the fact that they were carrying a gun kept a crime from taking place. But I haven't seen any interviews with guys in prison who pulled out a gun and shot someone because it was the "only" way they could settle an argument on favorable terms. It might be added that none of the proponents of concealed-carry licensing have had anything to say about what happened in Florida last week.

Maybe I've got it all mixed up. Maybe when it comes out that the bag of popcorn really could have caused serious or fatal damage to Reeves, he'll be lionized by the NRA as another 'good guy with a gun.' And maybe the people all over America who sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to George Zimmerman can now send their hard-earned money to Curtis Reeves because, after all, he was only exercising his God-given right to protect himself from harm.